2011/08/20

25 years on, 'Graceland' reigns as world music pioneer

WASHINGTON, August 20, 2011 (AFP) - If every generation throws a hero up the pop charts, Paul Simon has been twice anointed, first as a 1960s folk-rock icon, then as world music emissary with "Graceland," the landmark album he released 25 years ago this month.

Stung by a second failed marriage and looking for a way to boost his flagging career, the singer-songwriter holed up at home on Long Island and was contemplating a new direction when a friend gave him a tape of South African "township jive".

A smitten Simon ventured to South Africa to catch up with the musicians, spending weeks recording with them as a global movement gelled against the racial segregation system known as apartheid.

Then in August, 1986 he stunned the world with what is universally considered his solo masterpiece: 11 eclectic tracks of autobiographical pop, soulful American R&B, Louisiana zydeco and Chicano rock layered with gorgeous African rhythms and harmonies that catapulted him back into the limelight.

It became the soundtrack to the lives of countless Americans and Europeans, selling 14 million copies, winning album of the year and song of the year Grammy Awards, turning acapella South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo into superstars and bringing African music in general to a wider world.

It pre-dated today's musical mash-ups, and with the album coming as it did at the dawn of compact discs, and on the cusp of the mobile phone and Internet revolutions, its opening track "The Boy in the Bubble" foretold the future with its hi-tech imagery.

"These are the days of lasers in the jungle," Simon sang.

In a way, "Graceland" was the first 21st Century album.

"It sounds like it could have been made yesterday," author Marc Eliot, whose biography of Simon came out last year, told AFP.

"If he had done nothing else but that album, he'd be in the pantheon of the greats."

Simon, who turns 70 in October, is among just a handful of artists to make hit records in seven decades, from the late 1950s with friend Art Garfunkel to this year's album "So Beautiful or So What."

In the 1970s, Simon produced soulful and sentimental rock and made forays into Latin beats and reggae.

But by the early 80s his new work was largely ignored. Slip-sliding into irrelevance, he took a chance few major artists would have, said Eliot, by seeking out rock's roots and traveling to Africa.

-- Created the space for world music --

Simon didn't look nostalgically at the continent as a source of musical influence, however -- he was embracing Africa's current of creativity, and in the process challenging a backward political system five years before Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

"For me, 'Graceland' still remains the greatest album ever produced by any outside composer representing South African music," said Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse, the South African musician who took Simon to Johannesburg's Soweto township in 1985 and suggested musicians the American could work with.

But it couldn't just be about the songs, lush as they were with Simon's effortless tenor intertwined with the rich, humid voices of Ladysmith singers on tracks such as "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes" and "Homeless."

Politics had its grip on all things cultural in South Africa, and Mabuse recalled the controversy over Simon's visit, saying "it profiled South Africa at the height of apartheid."

In the end, "they loved it," Eliot said of the reception South Africa gave the album.

But Simon was criticized as a white American parachuting in to exploit the talents of lesser-known musicians, and protesters inside and outside South Africa felt he was violating a UN cultural boycott on the country.

"People were divided," recalled South African-born Sean Jacobs, a professor at the New School in New York who also blogs about Africa.

"Some thought he would give legitimacy to a regime that was in really big trouble."

Instead, Jacobs said, what was put squarely in the spotlight was black Africa.

"He definitely created the space" for world music, said Jacobs. "He made it acceptable that you could sell records with sounds that were not well-known and predictable."

Simon returned to South Africa three weeks ago to perform with musicians who played on the album, in a show reportedly to be aired in a documentary.

"It felt like I was coming home," Simon said, according to Billboard magazine.

Among those joining him for the reunion was Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala, who at age 72 still sounds startled at his band's enduring appeal.

"We were not expecting to tour the world" with Simon, Shabalala told AFP, but there were "invitations from everywhere."

He said "Graceland" -- named for the home of Elvis Presley, who embraced African-American music as a direct influence on rock & roll -- opened the doors to an interracial conversation in South Africa that led to the crumbling of apartheid.

"That was the beginning," Shabalala said.

23 killed as Syria presses crackdown on protest

DAMASCUS, August 20, 2011 (AFP) - Syrian forces killed at least 23 protesters as tens of thousands flooded the streets after Friday prayers, activists said, despite President Bashar al-Assad's assurances that assaults on anti-regime protesters had ended.

Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey dismissed growing calls led by US President Barack Obama for Assad to quit, offering the embattled Syrian leader rare support despite a damning UN report on his "apparent shoot to kill" policy.

On the political front, a group of "revolutionary blocs" formed a coalition vowing to bring down the regime and paid tribute to more than 2,000 civilians killed in a crackdown on protesters since mid-March.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 people were killed, including an 11-year-old and a 72-year-old, in the southern province of Daraa, epicentre of the anti-regime protests that erupted March 15.

Six were killed in the central city of Homs, one in the Harasta suburb of Damascus and another in the capital's suburb of Douma.

The Observatory said security forces opened fire on protesters, also wounding 25 people, in the Ghabagheb, Inkhil, Al-Herak and Nawa neighbourhoods in Daraa, but the official SANA news agency blamed the shooting on "armed men."

SANA said a policeman and a civilian were killed in Ghabagheb and six security forces wounded.

People poured into the streets of major towns as they emerged from the weekly prayers, with the largest anti-regime demonstration reported in Homs.

Around 20,000 in Al-Khalidiyeh demanded the ouster of Assad, said the Observatory, which also reported rallies in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, and in the northern cities of Latakia and Banias.

Some 10,000 people marched in the predominantly Kurdish cities of Qamishli and Amuda, according to an activist at the scene, while other protests took place in and around Damascus and in Hama in central Syria.

The Observatory said troops and security forces deployed in several areas to prevent protests from taking place, including in Latakia where pro-regime "shabiha' militias pounced on worshippers as they emerged from a mosque.

Security forces opened fire and conducted arrests to prevent protests from spilling into streets in Damascus neighbourhoods.

Friday's rallies put to the test a commitment given by Assad to UN chief Ban Ki-moon the previous day that his security forces have ended operations against civilians.

The Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook group, one of the drivers of the protests, had called for the demonstrations under the slogan, "Friday of the beginnings of victory."

The civilian death toll from the security force crackdown on the protests has now passed 2,000, UN Under Secretary General B. Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council on Thursday.

And UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the council there was "reliable corroborative evidence" that Syrian forces are deliberately shooting anti-regime demonstrators.

Pillay said in an interview with France 24 television that her body had drawn up a list of 50 Syrians in senior positions that she said were responsible for violent repression.

Frustrated that international calls for a halt to the bloodletting were being snubbed by Damascus, US President Barack Obama on Thursday called for Assad to quit for the first time since the protests broke out.

"We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said.

His call was quickly echoed by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany while Spain followed suit on Friday.

But Russia and Turkey disagreed.

"We do not share the United States and the European Union's point of view regarding President al-Assad and will continue to pursue our consistent and principled stance on Syria," the foreign ministry said in Moscow.

A government official in Ankara agreed and told AFP a call for Assad's ouster must come from the Syrian people themselves.

"First and foremost the people of Syria must tell Assad to go. This has not been heard in the streets of Syria," the official said. "The Syrian opposition is not united and we haven't seen yet a collective call from Syrians to tell Assad to go, like in Egypt and Libya."

But the opposition announced Friday the creation of the so-called Syrian Revolution General Commission, joining 44 "revolution blocs" due to "the dire need to unite the field, media and political efforts" of the pro-democracy movement.

The Syrian opposition is becoming "more cohesive" and "more broadly representative" of the country as a whole, State Department's deputy spokesman Mark Toner told CNN.

"It's a very fluid situation in Syria," the US official said when asked if an anti-Iran opposition was ready to replace Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect who has forged a close alliance with Shiite and non-Arab Iran.

Meanwhile, the European Union added 20 new names to a list of Syrian individuals and businesses hit with sanctions, with a deal also now close for a ban on oil imports.

European nations buy most of Syria's oil exports, which amounted to some 148,000 barrels a day in 2009, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Arab Christians shake off fear at Catholic youth gathering

MADRID, August 20, 2011 (AFP) - Fade Sarkis, a Christian who fled Iraq after receiving death threats, says he has finally found a sense of safety in Roman Catholic youth festivities in Madrid.

"I am very, very happy here. I have never seen so many Christians in one place," he said as lounged on the grass of Madrid's central Retiro park surrounded by dozens of other pilgrims.

"It helps me feel more Christian, everyone here is Christian, I feel relaxed, I feel good," added the 23-year-old who moved to Paris from Mosul as a refugee two years ago after receiving several letters from Islamists warning that he would be shot because of his religious beliefs.

He is one of about 200 Iraqis who have come to Madrid for the six-day World Youth Day festival, which wraps up Sunday with a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI and is expected to draw around one million faithful.

Christians are a small and vulnerable minority in many Arab countries, except for in Lebanon where they make up about one-third of the population and wield political power.

And those from nations like Iraq where Christians routinely suffer attacks, or countries like Syria where there is a growing risk of violence against them, say taking part in the gathering helps ease feelings of isolation.

"Here we do not feel so alone," said Bassam al-Ahmad, a 21-year-old business administration student from Damascus as he left a mass held in Arabic Thursday at Madrid's San Jeronimo el Real church for pilgrims from the Middle East.

"Of course we are afraid. We see what is happening in countries around us and we fear that the same could happen in our land," added al-Ahmad, one of around 640 Syrians taking part in the festivities.

Syria's Christians fear their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic but secular rule is overthrown by the violent protests sweeping the country.

In Egypt, attacks against Christians have increased since a popular uprising overthrew strongman Hosni Mubarak in February.

Hundreds of faithful sang songs and waved flags from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan during the Arabic mass on Thursday, which was presided over by Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad.

"The situation is not good for all Iraqis, not only for Christians, because there is no peace. Because we are a minority it is worse for Christians because there are many fanatics that want to do bad things against us," he said.

Warduni’s Church of Our Lady of Sacred Heart in east Baghdad was itself hit by a suicide car bomb in July 2009 that killed four people and wounded 21.

He warned that the unprecedented pro-democracy uprisings sweeping through the Arab world could lead to more violence against Christians in the region by Islamic fundamentalists.

"For me it doesn't help, on the contrary it is very bad. The strong fanatics are becoming even stronger but we trust in God that he will do something to protect us," said Warduni, the second-most-senior Chaldean bishop in Iraq.

Iraq's Christian population has halved since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003 and now stands at around 400,000, he said.

Many Iraqi Christians have moved to parts of the country that are perceived to be safer.

Steven Jaleel Mansoor, a 22-year-old student, fled to the northern city of Mosul from Baghdad with his two sisters, his mother and his father last year seeking greater security.

"Iraq is dangerous because Muslims bomb Christians in Iraq, they don't want Christians in Iraq," said Mansoor, who is the only member of his family attended World Youth Day.

Some Iraqi Christians though said they saw improvements to their situation, despite the challenges that they face.

"We have Christian televisions stations, radio, newspapers. This is my first time at World Youth Day because during the Saddam era we could not get visas to travel," said Matti Ismael, 42, from the northern Iraqi town of Karemless.

Singapore tycoon takes stake in McLaren Automotive

SINGAPORE, August 19, 2011 (AFP) - A Singaporean tycoon has taken a "significant" stake in McLaren Automotive, the British high-performance sports car maker said Friday in move aimed to boost its Asian expansion plans.

Peter Lim, a billionaire businessman who made his fortune through stockbroking, "has completed a significant investment in the company", McLaren said in a statement on its website.

Lim will join the company's board of directors with immediate effect, said the statement, which did not give the size of the Asian tycoon's investment.

It said getting Lim on board is part of McLaren's strategy to expand into the lucrative Asian market for its range of high-performance sports cars.

"With Peter Lim’s investment, McLaren marks another major milestone in its global growth strategy," the company said.

His membership in the firm's board "will strengthen the company’s corporate and trading influence in the region at a time of encouraging demand for the company’s first 'pure' McLaren sports car, the MP4-12C", it added.

McLaren said demand for the sports car from the Asia Pacific was "strong", with orders accounting for 18 months of production.

Lim, a sports enthusiast, made headlines last year when he offered 320 million pounds ($528.45 million) in cash to buy Liverpool. He also offered an extra 40 million pounds for the acquisition of players.

Liverpool were eventually sold to New England Sports Ventures, the owner of baseball's Boston Red Sox in the United States.

Lim, a self-confessed Manchester United fan, is also rumoured to be a potential investor if the English Premier League title-holders push through with plans to list in the Singapore stock market later this year.

McLaren is designing, developing and manufacturing exclusive and premium 'pure' McLaren sports cars and selling and servicing the range through a global retail network.

It has started distributing the first MP4-12Cs to retailers and customers in the UK and mainland Europe.

Distribution in the Asia Pacific region is expected from late-2011. The retail network is set to expand from 2012, including further growth in Asia, the company said.

Lim's McLaren stake is the latest high-profile investment by an Asian tycoon in a Western company.

On Thursday, Queens Park Rangers said that Tony Fernandes, owner of Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia, had completed his takeover of the newly promoted Premier League club.

Fernandes, who is also the team principal of Formula One's Team Lotus, secured his buyout after assuming a 66 percent stake from previous shareholders Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.

Beyonce ready to dedicate herself to having children

Jackson doctor asks sequestered jury in trial

LOS ANGELES, August 19, 2011 (AFP) - Attorneys for Michael Jackson's former physician Conrad Murray, on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of the pop icon, want a sequestered jury during Conrad's trial, court papers showed Friday.

"There is reasonable expectation that Dr. Murray's trial will be the most publicized in history," wrote the doctor's attorneys in court papers given to Judge Michael Pastor.

"It is necessary to sequester the jury in order to ensure that it is free from outside influences and guarantee the defendant a fair trial by an impartial jury," said attorneys Edward Chernoff and Nareg Gourjian.

Judge Pastor will review the request, and a hearing is set for August 25. In July, the judge said he did not support sequestering the jury, and he estimated that the measure was unnecessary and said the system cannot afford the costs associated with isolating the jury for six weeks.

The defendant's attorneys called it "Pollyanna to expect the jury members to go home each workday and weekend for six weeks and entirely avoid the mass of exposure this trial will engender."

They added that isolation is the sole way to ensure the jury's decision-making process is not tainted.

"Although there is a cost with ordering sequestration, it is comparatively minimal compared to the costs that would be incurred by a retrial or new trial that would be required as a result of contamination," the attorneys wrote.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin September 8, and opening statements will take place on September 26.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin May 9, but was pushed back at the defense's request after they asked for time to develop cross-examinations for new witnesses from the prosecution.

Murray, the last doctor to treat Jackson, is on trial for involuntary homicide in the "King of Pop's" death on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50 after an overdose of the anesthesia propofol, which the singer used as a sleeping aid.

Prosecutors say Jackson died from an overdose of the powerful sedative propofol, which Murray was in charge of administering to help alleviate the star's insomnia.

Murray's defense is expected to argue that Jackson gave himself an excessive dose of the drug while the doctor was out of the room at the singer's mansion in the affluent Holmby Hills neighborhood west of Los Angeles.

If found guilty, Murray could face up to four years in prison.

Apple planning early 2012 launch for new iPad: WSJ

NEW YORK, August 19, 2011 (AFP) - Apple plans to begin trial production of a next generation iPad in October with an eye to an early 2012 launch, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The newspaper, citing "people familiar with the situation," said Apple is working with component suppliers and its assembler in Asia on the iPad 3 and has ordered key components such as display panels and chips.

It said the next generation iPad is expected to feature a high resolution 2048-by-1536 pixel display compared with the 1024-by-768 display on the iPad 2.

The Journal quoted one unidentified component supplier to Apple as saying that the company has placed orders for parts for about 1.5 million iPad 3s in the fourth quarter.

Apple sources parts for the iPad around Asia and assembles the tablet computer at Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.

Apple sold 9.25 million iPads last quarter.

Match.com ordered to show it screens sex offenders

LOS ANGELES, August 19, 2011 (AFP) - A California judge ordered dating website Match.com Friday to show evidence it screens customers to exclude sex offenders.

The order by Superior Court Judge Carl West came in a case that saw a woman sue the popular matchmaking website after she was sexually assaulted by a man she met through the site last year.

Carole Markin later learned that the 67-year-old man had a history of sex offenses.

The lawsuit aims to compel Match.com to cross-check its members with information on sex offenders in US criminal databases.

Match.com has announced it would screen new members but the judge said he wanted proof that this policy was in place.

"It's a very serious claim," West said. "If Match.com has adopted policies that are good for public, then everybody wins."

The judge indicated the lawsuit may be settled if the company shows it is screening adequately.

Match.com, created in 1995, claims millions of members in more than 20 countries.

HP surrenders as post-PC era beckons

WASHINGTON, August 20, 2011 (AFP) - The stunning announcement by Hewlett-Packard, the world's top personal computer maker, that it is taking steps to exit the business is the surest sign yet the post-PC era is here.

"We tend to throw the 'post-PC era' term around a lot, but it's clear that, in the wake of HP's announcement, we’re closer than ever to that reality," said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.

"When a stalwart of hardware's golden age essentially walks away from the business on which it was built," Levy told AFP, "it's easy to conclude that the point of no return has been officially passed."

HP said its board has authorized the evaluation of "strategic alternatives" for its unit that could sell or spin off its PC business into a separate company.

The Windows-powered PC has been at the center of the lives of consumers for years but the arrival of powerful smartphones -- essentially pocket computers -- and touchscreen tablets like Apple's iPad has lessened its importance.

Consumers no longer need a desktop or a laptop to be connected and with the steady erosion of profit margins on PCs, HP failed to position itself with the products of the future, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said.

"What (the post-PC era) really means is not that PCs go away but that there's a shift away from computers to computing," Rotman Epps told AFP.

"Computing happens now on many different devices and it's a much diverse landscape than one type of computer," she said. "And HP really didn't have an answer for what was next beyond the PC.

"Where there are higher margin computing products being made HP hasn't been able to succeed," the Forrester analyst said, pointing to Apple as a technology company that has been able to do so.

"Apple has been able to innovate, to sell the iPad, an all-new form factor, because of its non-hardware ecosystem," Rotman Epps said. "It has the channel in the Apple store, it has the service, and it has the software -- iTunes, the App store, the whole developer platform."

"HP took a baby step towards getting there when they acquired the Palm webOS but they weren't willing to really go full throttle and invest the capital that would have been needed to make that a successful business," she said.

California-based HP also said it was stopping production of its iPad rival, the TouchPad, and phones based on the webOS mobile operating system acquired from Palm last year for $1.2 billion.

Explaining the moves, HP chief executive Leo Apotheker said the weak economy was having an impact on PC sales but there is also a "clear secular movement in the consumer PC space."

"The velocity of change in the personal device marketplace continues to increase and the competitive landscape is growing increasingly more complex, especially around the personal computing arena," Apotheker said.

"The tablet effect is real and sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations," he said.

Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius said HP's decision to sell or spin off its PC division was more about the shrinking profit margins in the PC industry than anything else.

"The PC market has transformed into a tactical, commoditized business," Margevicius said. "We're not in an era when the PC is dead. The PC market is flat but it's still a huge business.

"If the PC business was a business that generated 20 percent margins HP's not dumping their PC business," Margevicius said.

In jettisoning its PC unit, HP is taking a page from the playbook of IBM, which sold its PC business to China's Lenovo in 2004 to concentrate on servers, software and services for the enterprise market.

"In a way, these two transactions bookend the transition from hardware to a software- and services-based post-PC focus where the device that runs a service is less important -- and profitable -- than the service itself," Levy said.

"The trend has been building for years, as margins on hardware have become consistently tighter," the Ontario-based analyst said.

"While it is still possible to build a profitable business based on selling hardware, the returns -- coupled with limited future growth potential -- are often insufficient for edgy investors," he said.

"HP's move confirms, as if we weren't already convinced, that the box itself no longer matters," Levy said. "It's the value of the software that runs that box, and the services delivered via that software, that are most notable -- and profitable -- now."

Internet takes "distance-learning" into the Amazon

TUMBIRA, August 20, 2011 (AFP) - The Internet is letting a school sprout in the Amazon where teachers tend not to linger due to harsh living conditions and a scarcity of students.

Teachers in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, conduct lessons streamed to students in the village of Tumbira using an Internet connection made possible with a generator-powered radio signal.

If not for "distance learning," children from far-flung Amazon river communities would forgo school or endure arduous boat trips to places with traditional schools.

"There was skepticism whether this system would work," Tumbira school director Izolena Garrido told AFP on Friday.

"It seemed like there was a lot of outside maneuvering to keep the school from functioning."

While Internet technology made the school possible, opposition came from traditional schools in cities that saw money spent on distance-learning as eating into government funding for public education.

"So, we established a model for teaching and learning and just got the school going," Garrido said. "With or without students, we were going to get this school going."

A home for the distance-learning school was created by Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), which built classrooms, a library and even sleeping quarters where students could string up hammocks that serve as bedding in the Amazon.

Garrido enlisted local teachers and invited parents to visit the school, which provides an intimate setting. Children from six Amazon communities aside from Tumbira signed on for the program launched about 18 months ago.

"Technology, in many ways, opens the door for revolution," FAS superintendent Virgilio Viana said during a visit to Tumbira.

"Here we are only able to do what we are doing with education because of technology, because of the Internet... If not for this, it would not be possible."

Tumbira classes take place in the afternoons and evenings, when the generator runs and there is power for the Internet.

Children intently watch teachers on flat-screen monitors equipped with Web cameras that let distant professors see students, peruse homework or follow exercises in classes.

"It's as if the teacher is in the classroom," said 16-year-old Ednaldo, one of the 76 students at the Tumbira school.

Courses range from math and sciences to first aid, health and exercise.

Local teachers sit with students, answering questions and helping with assignments.

"It is a pretty amazing experience," said Tumbira teacher Yolanda de Jesus dos Santos.

"Children really love electronics and the Internet, and this method saves time," she added. "I don't have to plan every class, so I can focus on dance, theater, and other projects for the children."

Students pay attention because if they miss anything important, professors won't be around after class to answer questions, according to dos Santos.

Students click icons to virtually raise hands in chat rooms used for questions or comments during classes.

"It is different from other schools, but at the same time it is the same," said 12-year-old student Angeliane. "The teacher teaches."

Homework is done at school, which features a library, Internet and assisting teachers like dos Santos.

"Last year I was in a school with big classes and no organization and it was a mess," Angeliane said. "Now, I have a better class with fewer people and I get involved more."

Students also work in vegetable gardens and learn about sustainably harvesting trees and working with wood.

"The goal is to have students learn skills that they can take back to develop within their communities," Garrido said.

There are also computing and Internet classes, with students required to maintain a "Passion for the Amazon" blog and upload digital photographs. Students boasted email and Facebook accounts.

The school has support from FAS, along with a non-governmental organization devoted to keeping alive the stories and culture of Amazonian people.

The distance school is a boon to local women like Maria do Socorro da Silva Mendonca, who had just a couple of years of schooling before marrying and starting a family.

Mendonca, 40, and her two teenage sons attend classes in Tumbira, where she has lived for 17 years.

"It is a privilege for me to be studying more now," she said outside her small house. "Not just for me, but for other women."

When asked whether she would be back in school without distance learning, she emphatically answered "No."

A cabin with urban amenities was being built by FAS to entice researchers and city teachers to spend time working in the Amazon.

Viana envisioned the two-classroom school accessible only by boat on the Rio Negro becoming a university devoted to living in harmony with the rain forest.

There are already students who finished high school eager to continue learning, he said.

"There is no room to grow out; no more space, so I imagine there will be growth up," said Garrido, who was confident the school would blossom. "I see only positive things going forward."

2011/08/16

Malaysia to set up election reform panel

KUALA LUMPUR, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysian premier Najib Razak said his government will set up a bipartisan parliamentary committee on election reform, a month after police quashed a rally demanding changes to the polling process.

Najib said the panel, comprising government and opposition members, will have a mandate to discuss "everything that needs to be done," state media reported late Monday.

"This is so that we can reach a consensus in the next election without any suspicion about manipulation by the government," Najib added.

The announcement comes after riot police last month used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the largest rally the country has seen in four years, arresting 1,600 people.

Thousands gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur on July 9 to demand electoral reforms as part of a rally organised by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of nongovernmental organisations.

It has called for reforms including the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, and equal access for all parties to the mainstream media, which is largely government-linked and controlled through printing permits.

Najib also criticised his own government's handling of foreign media reports on the Bersih rally after it censored sections of an article in The Economist, citing "incorrect information" on last month's protest.

"The very act of censoring it made a bigger story than the article itself. If the international media wants to criticise us, let it be," he was quoted as saying by the Star daily.

"If they cross the line, then we have to resolve (the matter) through legal means and (suing for) defamation is one of the means," the paper quoted him as saying.

Malaysia was ranked 141st out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, because of its tight controls on print and broadcast media.

Najib's administration has to call elections by 2013, but is widely expected to seek a new mandate by next year.

His Barisan Nasional coalition has ruled Malaysia for half a century, but won a reduced majority at the last poll in 2008.

Malaysia to set up election reform panel

KUALA LUMPUR, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysian premier Najib Razak said his government will set up a bipartisan parliamentary committee on election reform, a month after police quashed a rally demanding changes to the polling process.

Najib said the panel, comprising government and opposition members, will have a mandate to discuss "everything that needs to be done," state media reported late Monday.

"This is so that we can reach a consensus in the next election without any suspicion about manipulation by the government," Najib added.

The announcement comes after riot police last month used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the largest rally the country has seen in four years, arresting 1,600 people.

Thousands gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur on July 9 to demand electoral reforms as part of a rally organised by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of nongovernmental organisations.

It has called for reforms including the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, and equal access for all parties to the mainstream media, which is largely government-linked and controlled through printing permits.

Najib also criticised his own government's handling of foreign media reports on the Bersih rally after it censored sections of an article in The Economist, citing "incorrect information" on last month's protest.

"The very act of censoring it made a bigger story than the article itself. If the international media wants to criticise us, let it be," he was quoted as saying by the Star daily.

"If they cross the line, then we have to resolve (the matter) through legal means and (suing for) defamation is one of the means," the paper quoted him as saying.

Malaysia was ranked 141st out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, because of its tight controls on print and broadcast media.

Najib's administration has to call elections by 2013, but is widely expected to seek a new mandate by next year.

His Barisan Nasional coalition has ruled Malaysia for half a century, but won a reduced majority at the last poll in 2008.

'Apes' claims top branch at weekend box office

LOS ANGELES, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" dangled from the top spot in the North American box office for a second consecutive weekend, raking in $27.8 million, industry estimates showed Monday.

Although the earnings marked a 50 percent drop from last weekend, the prequel to the 1968 classic "Planet of the Apes" still brought a total of $105.2 million after 10 days, according to earnings tracker Exhibitor Relations.

In a surprise second was the screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 debut novel "The Help," a 1960s period film about African-American maids working for white households in Jackson, Mississippi.

The movie, which opened Wednesday, earned $26 million over the weekend for a total take of $35.9 million so far.

The sardonic "Final Destination 5," a dark comedy in which good-looking young people are methodically killed off in graphic detail, debuted in third place.

The fifth installment of the once-innovative franchise in which teens cheat death only to have the Grim Reaper come clawing back to claim them, sold a less-than-expected $18 million in tickets.

"The Smurfs" fell from second to fourth in their third week, with a take of $13.3 million.

The live-action and animated film, starring Neil Patrick Harris and featuring the voice of pop star Katy Perry as Smurfette, so far has generated an estimated $101.8 million in North American sales.

Fifth place went to "30 Minutes or Less," starring Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network" as a pizza delivery guy kidnapped by fledgling criminals who strap a bomb to his chest and order him to rob a bank. It earned $13.3 million.

Action thriller "Cowboys & Aliens" starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, marked its third week in theaters with $7.8 million in ticket sales, slipping from third to sixth place.

The eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," came in seventh place.

The blockbuster about the boy wizard took in $7.25 million in its fifth week, after breaking multiple box office records and soaring past $1 billion in global sales.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" with Chris Evans starring as a superhero dedicated to defending American ideals, with the eighth biggest earning movie, with $7.2 million in sales.

Dropping two spots to ninth was the romantic comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love," with a take of $7 million.

Tenth place was claimed by the comedy date flick "The Change-Up," selling $6.3 million in movie seats.

Jackson's mom again backs Britain tribute concert

LOS ANGELES, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - The mother of late pop icon Michael Jackson on Monday again threw her support behind a tribute concert scheduled to take place in Britain in October, despite criticism from two of her other sons.

Pop diva Christina Aguilera, Motown legend Smokey Robinson and singer-songwriter Cee Lo Green have confirmed they will perform at the massive concert set for October 8 at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, organizers say.

Jackson's brothers Randy and Jermaine however have voiced their opposition, saying the family should be concentrating on the upcoming manslaughter trial of their brother's doctor, which will begin on September 26 in Los Angeles.

But Katherine Jackson told CNN the show should go on.

"I can understand how they feel. I feel sort of the same way, but at the same time it's been two years and the court has to do what they have to do but this is a tribute to my son and I support it," she told the news network.

"I just want them to remember Michael. This concert is going to be a very good concert and that's why I joined with my partner to support it," she said, seated next to Paul Ring, one of the US promoters of the event.

Jackson's sister La Toya and brothers Tito, Marlon and Jackie also support the project, which will also star British singer Leona Lewis and rock band Alien Ant Farm, who have covered Jackson's "Smooth Criminal."

When Katherine Jackson and her children made public their plans for the tribute concert in late July, Randy and Jermaine issued a sharp rebuke, blasting the timing of the Wales event.

"There will come a time and place for an amazing and deserving tribute to Michael. But we feel that the most important tribute we can give to our brother at this time is to seek justice in his name," the pair said on Twitter.

According to entertainment website TMZ.com, which cited a spokesman for the family, Jackson's children Paris, Blanket and Prince "have been asked to attend the MJ Tribute in Wales and they have decided to go."

Fans have until August 16 to register for the ticket lottery. Seats cost from 55 to 240 pounds ($90-395). Some of the proceeds from ticket sales will be given to charity.

Conrad Murray, the last doctor to treat Jackson, has been charged with involuntary homicide in connection with the singer's death on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50 after an overdose of propofol, which he used as a sleeping aid.

The trial is due to begin on September 26. If found guilty, Murray could face up to four years in prison.

To live longer, exercise daily and tame the telly: studies

PARIS, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - People who exercise just a little bit each day may boost their lifespan while TV addicts could be taking years off their life, two studies published on Tuesday suggest.

Chi-Pang Wen of Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes and Jackson Pui Man Wai of the National Taiwan Sport University looked at more than 400,000 people who took part in a medical screening programme between 1996 and 2008. The volunteers were then followed for eight years on average.

Compared with individuals who said they were physically inactive, people who were in a group of "low-volume" exercise had a 14-percent reduced risk of premature death from all causes, and a 10-percent reduced risk of death from cancer.

The "low volume" category applied to people whose total amount of exercise of all kinds averaged 92 minutes per week, or about 15 minutes a day.

On average, their life expectancy was three years longer than inactive counterparts.

The benefits applied to all ages and to both sexes and are roughly equivalent in health impact to a successful campaign to discourage smoking, say the authors, who publish their work online in The Lancet.

Separately, researchers in Australia found that watching TV or videos for an average of six hours a day could shorten the viewer's life expectancy by almost five years.

The investigators used data from a cross-sectional survey of 11,000 Australian adults who were aged at least 25 at the turn of the millennium.

The data were then checked against Australia's national population and mortality figures for 2008.

The researchers estimated that in 2008 Australian adults aged 25 and older spent 9.8 billion hours in front of the small screen, and that this time was associated with 286,000 years of life that ended prematurely.

Every single hour of TV watched after the age of 25 shortened the viewer's life expectancy by just under 22 minutes, according to an extrapolation of these figures.

In actuarial terms, an hour in front of the box had roughly the same effect on life expectancy as smoking two cigarettes.

In an extreme case, someone who spends a lifetime average of six hours a day watching TV -- in the top one percent of the viewing population -- can expect to live 4.8 years less than someone who does not watch TV, according to their calculation.

The study, headed by Lennert Veerman of the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, is published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The investigators point the finger at TV watching not because of the programmes themselves but because of the dangers of physical inactivity that come from prolonged spells on the sofa.

A sedentary lifestyle is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, excess weight and other health problems.

Actress Jessica Alba welcomes second child

LOS ANGELES, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - US actress Jessica Alba has given birth to her second child, a girl named Haven, and took to Facebook for the announcement.

Husband "Cash (Warren) and I are so excited to announce the birth of our daughter, Haven Garner Warren," the "Sin City" star wrote on her account.

"She was born on Saturday, weighed 7lbs (3.2 kilograms), and was 19 inches (48.3 centimeters) long. Healthy and happy! Big Sister Honor couldn't be more excited about the new addition to our family."

The 30-year-old actress, married since 2008, has starred in "Little Fockers," "Valentine's Day," "The Love Guru" and "Fantastic Four."

Her first daughter Honor was born in June 2008.

US police search for thieves in Rembrandt heist

LOS ANGELES, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Police were on the lookout Monday for two people suspected in the theft of a Rembrandt drawing from a luxury hotel in the California beachfront resort of Marina del Rey, Los Angeles police said.

"The Judgment," a pen and ink drawing with an estimated value of $250,000, was on display for an exhibition held in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel that also featured a Picasso.

The Dutch master's piece was stolen late Saturday around 10:30 pm (0530 GMT Sunday) when an accomplice of the thief distracted the exhibition's curator, Los Angeles County Sheriff spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

"The curator turned his attention away from the exhibit, toward this other individual. And when he turned back, the Rembrandt was gone," Whitmore explained. "This appears to be a well-thought, well-planned, well-executed theft."

Investigators say a video surveillance camera may have recorded the theft, and the spokesman stressed that any such footage would "help us tremendously" in solving the crime.

"Our confidence is high that we're going to apprehend the culprit and return the original Rembrandt to its rightful owner," he added, noting that the hotel has "one of the best" hotel security teams in the United States.

The drawing and dozens more pieces on sale were exhibited on easels.

Motorola buy a blow to Google's Android partners - Analysis

WASHINGTON, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Google's Android partners welcomed the Internet giant's $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility on Monday but the move may force the handset makers to rethink their strategies, analysts said.

In announcing the acquisition of the US smartphone and tablet computer manufacturer, Google stressed it would be "business as usual for Android" and it would continue to license the mobile operating system as an open platform.

Google also released quotes from key Android partners Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG Electronics praising the protection Motorola'a patent portfolio will provide Android from lawsuits from rivals such as Apple and Microsoft.

"We welcome the news of today's acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem," HTC chief executive Peter Chou was quoted as saying.

But technology industry analysts said Google's move could not have gone down well in the corporate boardrooms of the Internet titan's Android partners.

"You have to wonder what kind of a morning the folks at HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson are having right now," said Gartner research director Michael Gartenberg.

"This puts a lot of pressure on third-party OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who built their businesses on Android," Gartenberg told AFP.

"As long as they can still get access to Android that's great," he said. "But the challenge for Google is very simple -- nobody has ever successfully licensed a platform and competed with licensees.

"Because if you do better, then your licensees get frustrated," he said. "If your licensees do better than you then you get frustrated, even if no money is changing hands.

"Lots of folks are going to have to rethink their strategy," he said.

In a blog post on the New Yorker magazine website, Ken Auletta, author of a book about Google, said Google has "recently labored to reassure telephone companies that its Android operating system, unlike Apple's iPhone, will be open to all and exclusive to no one.

"Although Google says its purchase of Motorola will not grant it most-favored-nation treatment, don't be surprised if few believe this," Auletta said.

"The interests of Google shareholders who want their Motorola division to have exclusive mobile features will vie with the interests of the other mobile companies Google says it is serving," he said.

Forrester Research analyst John McCarthy said the deal leaves Google in an "awkward position of being half-pregnant and trying to be a provider of an open source 'environment' while at the same time competing with its 'customers.'"

He said it could potentially open the way for Microsoft to offer its mobile operating system, Windows Mobile, to handset makers as an Android alternative.

"Forrester can hear Steve Ballmer and company pitching the Asian players on how Microsoft is the only hardware agnostic player left," McCarthy said.

Paul Ausick of website 247WallSt.com said Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility is "likely to cause consternation among its Android licensees" and agreed with McCarthy that it could be an opportunity for Microsoft.

"For Samsung and HTC, switching (operating systems) would be neither cheap nor easy, but Microsoft has a big pile of money to help with the not-cheap part," Ausick said.

According to Gartner, Android will power nearly half of the smartphones worldwide by the end of next year with a 49.2 percent market share.

The market share for Apple's iPhone was forecast to remain relatively stable at 18.9 percent in 2012.

Windows will account for 5.6 percent of the smartphone market at the end of 2011 but will rise to 10.8 percent in 2012, according to Gartner.

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia announced in February that it will begin using Microsoft's mobile platform as its smartphone operating system.

Qantas, Japan Air, Mitsubishi to launch Jetstar Japan

SYDNEY, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Qantas Airways, Japan Airlines and Mitsubishi Corp. said Tuesday they will launch a new budget airline, Jetstar Japan, by the end of next year.

The low-cost airline will be one-third owned by each company and will begin operations with three new A320s, each capable of carrying 180 passengers.

The plan is to expand to 24 aircraft within the first few years, most of them purchased new.

Total investment for the new carrier is 12 billion yen (US$1.6 billion).

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce called it a "historic" step for Jetstar, which is the Australian airline's budget offshoot and also the Asia-Pacific's fastest growing carrier, carrying almost 20 million passengers a year.

"This is a major opportunity in a major market," he said, adding that Qantas had a proven ability to operate low-fare airlines.

"It is, we think, the first joint-venture partnership of its kind between an Australian company and two iconic Japanese brands."

It will initially fly domestically from Tokyo's Narita airport and Osaka, with other destinations under consideration.

Ultimately, it plans to offer short-haul international services to key Asian cities.

JAL president Masaru Onishi said the partnership would allow the Japanese airline to competitively serve a larger part of its domestic market, as well as stimulating an economy hit hard by natural disasters.

"It will encourage even more movement of people within the country and also increase the number of visitors from Asia to Japan," he said.

"We anticipate this to stimulate consumer spending and play a role in revitalising the Japanese economy."

Jetstar boss Bruce Buchanan added that the new venture would also help keep fares low.

"Jetstar is about bringing exciting travel options within reach of more people, by offering sustainably low fares," he said.

"As Jetstar expands into new markets across Asia, it gives us economies of scale to strengthen the low cost advantage right across our network, including within Australia and New Zealand."

As part of rebuilding its international operations, Qantas also plans to set up a new premium airline based in a yet-to-be decided Asian destination, to cash in on the growing wealth in the region.

The joint venture will not be branded under the Qantas name but will leverage the airline's know-how. Eleven A320 aircraft will initially be used, Joyce said.

"We have narrowed down our location options and an announcement will be made when we have completed negotiations," he said, adding that the future in Asia was not all about low-cost airlines.

"Within 20 years, 16 percent of the world's middle class will be in East Asia," he said.

"China may already have the world's fourth largest population of millionaires, and India the twelfth. There are many, many millions of premium travellers in waiting."

'Sugar Babies': Internet 'dating' for money

WASHINGTON, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Pretty young women and older men of means -- 'sugar babies' and 'sugar daddies' -- are pairing up thanks to a US website that openly offers companionship for money, but balks at the word prostitution.

SeekingArrangement.com (SA) -- which bills itself as the "premier Sugar Daddy dating site" -- does not beat around the bush.

"We are a matchmaking website for wealthy benefactors, and attractive guys and gals," its front page says.

It is one of dozens of Internet sites that centers around the age-old idea of a "Sugar Daddy" -- an older man who pays to maintain the lifestyle for a younger, beautiful companion.

On SA, the idea is simple: a man who is "rich and successful... single or married" sets up an online profile that reveals the amount in his bank accounts and the monthly allowance he can provide to a willing woman.

Amounts range from at least $1,000 to more than $20,000.

"You have no time for games. You are looking to mentor or spoil someone special," says the site.

Men pay $50 a month for an account, plus $1,000 a year for the site to certify his wealth.

For the woman, who is ideally "attractive, ambitious and young," membership on the site is free.

"You seek a generous benefactor to pamper, mentor and take care of you, perhaps to help you financially?" asks the site.

The couple will meet, dine, travel together -- and maybe more.

"If it was just money and sex, people would go to an escort website," SA founder Brandon Wade told AFP.

"People meet, they negotiate and feel the chemistry, and if two people don't like each other, then nothing happens."

The 41-year-old Wade, who graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said people are often overly judgmental of these types of relationships.

--  'Rich and willing' --

"The point is that there's nothing wrong with dating somebody who is rich and who is willing to spend money on you in a relationship, and that's what it is about," he said.

On the site's blog, "BellaSavantNYC" describes herself as an an educated career woman and says that helps her attract even more men.

"For me, having a sugar adds enjoyment and companionship without any of the general relationship issues. I have been in arrangements where it was platonic as well and it was just as fulfilling," she writes.

Of course, money is at the heart of SA, an idea the website reinforces with their logo, which is a red heart with a $ symbol in the middle.

And of course, there are Sugar Mommies too, dating younger men.

Ronald Weitzer, a sociology professor at George Washington University and author of several studies on the sex industry, says under US law, there must be talk of money for sex from the start of the process to constitute prostitution.

In the case of SA, he says, the specific amount is not asked for right away.

"Prostitution is normally a direct exchange of some kind of material resources for sexual services," Weitzer told AFP.

"It's considered a very direct transaction but it gets complicated when you start looking at a more long-term relationship between the person who is paying and the person who is receiving," he says, calling SA's service "borderline."

He adds that most of the women on the site would not define themselves as prostitutes.

"But if you would ask them, 'Are you basically exchanging sex and romance for economic benefit?' they would have to say yes. Basically that would be a definition of prostitution."

According to Wade, 35 percent of the Sugar Babies who use his site are students who often use the money to pay for their studies, though that number cannot be independently verified.

So are Sugar Daddies truly searching for romance or fixed-rate love?

"I don't know what they are looking for," said Weitzer.

"Clearly what we do know is that they have resources. They are not the type of person who would go out on the street, looking for a prostitute -- they are lawyers, corporate people, bankers."

'Sugar Babies': Internet 'dating' for money

WASHINGTON, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Pretty young women and older men of means -- 'sugar babies' and 'sugar daddies' -- are pairing up thanks to a US website that openly offers companionship for money, but balks at the word prostitution.

SeekingArrangement.com (SA) -- which bills itself as the "premier Sugar Daddy dating site" -- does not beat around the bush.

"We are a matchmaking website for wealthy benefactors, and attractive guys and gals," its front page says.

It is one of dozens of Internet sites that centers around the age-old idea of a "Sugar Daddy" -- an older man who pays to maintain the lifestyle for a younger, beautiful companion.

On SA, the idea is simple: a man who is "rich and successful... single or married" sets up an online profile that reveals the amount in his bank accounts and the monthly allowance he can provide to a willing woman.

Amounts range from at least $1,000 to more than $20,000.

"You have no time for games. You are looking to mentor or spoil someone special," says the site.

Men pay $50 a month for an account, plus $1,000 a year for the site to certify his wealth.

For the woman, who is ideally "attractive, ambitious and young," membership on the site is free.

"You seek a generous benefactor to pamper, mentor and take care of you, perhaps to help you financially?" asks the site.

The couple will meet, dine, travel together -- and maybe more.

"If it was just money and sex, people would go to an escort website," SA founder Brandon Wade told AFP.

"People meet, they negotiate and feel the chemistry, and if two people don't like each other, then nothing happens."

The 41-year-old Wade, who graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said people are often overly judgmental of these types of relationships.

--  'Rich and willing' --

"The point is that there's nothing wrong with dating somebody who is rich and who is willing to spend money on you in a relationship, and that's what it is about," he said.

On the site's blog, "BellaSavantNYC" describes herself as an an educated career woman and says that helps her attract even more men.

"For me, having a sugar adds enjoyment and companionship without any of the general relationship issues. I have been in arrangements where it was platonic as well and it was just as fulfilling," she writes.

Of course, money is at the heart of SA, an idea the website reinforces with their logo, which is a red heart with a $ symbol in the middle.

And of course, there are Sugar Mommies too, dating younger men.

Ronald Weitzer, a sociology professor at George Washington University and author of several studies on the sex industry, says under US law, there must be talk of money for sex from the start of the process to constitute prostitution.

In the case of SA, he says, the specific amount is not asked for right away.

"Prostitution is normally a direct exchange of some kind of material resources for sexual services," Weitzer told AFP.

"It's considered a very direct transaction but it gets complicated when you start looking at a more long-term relationship between the person who is paying and the person who is receiving," he says, calling SA's service "borderline."

He adds that most of the women on the site would not define themselves as prostitutes.

"But if you would ask them, 'Are you basically exchanging sex and romance for economic benefit?' they would have to say yes. Basically that would be a definition of prostitution."

According to Wade, 35 percent of the Sugar Babies who use his site are students who often use the money to pay for their studies, though that number cannot be independently verified.

So are Sugar Daddies truly searching for romance or fixed-rate love?

"I don't know what they are looking for," said Weitzer.

"Clearly what we do know is that they have resources. They are not the type of person who would go out on the street, looking for a prostitute -- they are lawyers, corporate people, bankers."

How e-mail helped Yeltsin outfox 1991 coup plot

MOSCOW, August 16, 2011 (AFP) - Boris Yeltsin never suspected how a precursor to the Internet helped him foil the August 1991 coup and bring down the USSR until he bumped into a blinking computer and noticed something called e-mail.

A quick presentation by a starry-eyed woman who worked on the Soviet Union's maiden computer communications programme left Russia's first president stunned.

For Yeltsin was peering at an electronic version of his own momentous decree pronouncing the Communist coup attempt illegal and proclaiming himself the country's ultimate leader.

His astonishing gamble of August 19 -- taken as the fate of Soviet Communism hung in the balance -- had paid off only because people managed to hear about it.

The veteran coup plotters seized immediate control of all airwaves and shut the presses in an attempt to appear in full command and make sure that the pride of a unified Soviet Union stood unshaken.

But there was a communications loophole -- one neither the KGB knew how to plug nor which Yeltsin had ever heard about. And it involved a team of geeky technicians and a revolutionary Soviet e-mail system called RelCom.

"He was astounded," former RelCom manager Maria Stepanova said of her sudden encounter with Yeltsin a few months after the late leader's unlikely victory over the Communist hardliners.

"And there I was thinking: the newspapers are closed, the radio is not working, television is down -- and the people still know. So you were the one responsible!" she recalled a visibly-moved Yeltsin as saying.

The story of RelCom -- the Soviet Union's first private computer network and forerunner of what became known as the Internet -- begins in the bowels of the super-secret Kurchatov Institute on the dusty outskirts of Moscow.

Its team of 10,000 nuclear scientists and math whizzes had orders to keep up with the West during the Cold War. The breakthrough came in 1990 when it managed to zip a computer file by phone line to Finland.

The find's importance seemed fleeting at first. RelCom had just 3,000 clients ranging from institutes to a few state organisations by the time tanks rumbled into Moscow that fateful summer.

But that lone Finland link fed RelCom's e-mails into a global forum known as UseNet -- the pre-Internet community's main means of spreading gossip and swapping files.

And this is where excited researchers like Stepanova came in and did their bit to alter the course of history.

"We realised that something big was happening and that people needed to know," Stepanova said in the office of her new private Internet development company.

"Perhaps Yeltsin's decree (of August 19, 1991) reached one of our clients by fax -- we had them in those days -- and then they posted it with us. But either way, Yeltsin's appeal to the people was one of the first things we published."

RelCom went on to open the floodgates and pass each of its posts to UseNet -- an onslaught of e-mails with titles such as "eyewitness account" that were echoed two decades later during the Twitter revolutions of the Arab world.

It was not a move taken without risk. RelCom feared that its cover may have been blown for good when one Western television network attributed a news flash to an e-mail received from Moscow.

"That was horrible. (The Western network) disclosed the source of all this information. That really frightened us," Stepanova said. "But then somehow ... it never happened again."

One of the greatest mysteries of the entire episode is why the KGB security service never shut down the team or tried to arrest its members.

Stepanova recalled how one agent visited the group's office in the weeks preceding the attempted coup only to come away confused by the role a little box called the modem could play in international communications.

"I think the KGB had a suspicion that something untoward was happening," said Stepanova.

"They understood that we were engaged in some sort of international telephone negotiations. That something was happening. And then they saw the modem. But they could not make the link."

Stepanova -- a merry chain smoker who once studied the murky science of how computers can help humans in life -- said she was driving out of Moscow and about to start her summer vacation when she ran into a column of Soviet tanks.

She told her son that their vacation plans were finished and then re-joined the RelCom crew for a three-day spell in which they sent out tens of thousands of e-mails to information-starved readers across the world.

"We did not think that what we were doing was that important. But we all really wanted to be a part of it," she said.

2011/08/15

Google to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 bln

NEW YORK, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Internet giant Google will buy US telecom maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in cash, giving a boost to its Android mobile operating system, the companies said Monday.

The firms have entered into a definitive agreement under which Google will buy Motorola Mobility for $40.00 per share, a 63 percent premium over the closing price of Motorola Mobility shares on Friday, they said in a statement indicating their boards of directors had unanimously approved the deal.

Under the agreement, Motorola Mobility will remain an Android licensee and Google will run the unit as a separate business.

"Motorola Mobility's total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies," Google CEO Larry Page said in a statement.

"Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers."

Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha hailed the "significant value" the transaction will bring to the firm's stockholders, along with new opportunities.

"We have shared a productive partnership with Google to advance the Android platform, and now through this combination we will be able to do even more to innovate and deliver outstanding mobility solutions across our mobile devices and home businesses," he added.

Customary closing conditions apply to the transaction, including the receipt of regulatory approvals in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere, along with approval from Motorola Mobility stockholders.

The acquisition was expected to close by early next year.

"We expect that this combination will enable us to break new ground for the Android ecosystem," said Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile at Google.

"However, our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community."

Motorola Mobility manufactures mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.

US dominates Chinese university rankings

BEIJING, August 14, 2011 (AFP) - US colleges dominated a 2011 ranking of world universities issued by Shanghai's Jiaotong University on Sunday, with Harvard topping the influential list for a ninth year.

American institutions took 17 of the top 20 places on a list issued since 2003 and heavily focused on scientific research, but subject to criticism in Europe where officials say the criteria are biased against European schools.

Stanford University retook the second-place slot from the University of California, Berkeley, which fell to fourth place behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Three British universities made the top 20, with Cambridge in fifth place, Oxford in 10th and University College London at 20th.

The rankings are focused almost entirely on a university's achievements in scientific research, and do not cover the humanities -- prompting concerns that they do not accurately reflect an institution's overall performance.

Jiaotong uses criteria such as the number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won by staff and alumni, the number of highly cited researchers on staff, and the number of articles by faculty published in Nature and Science magazines.

The list was the first global ranking of universities when it made its debut in 2003. It was intended to benchmark the performance of Chinese universities, amid efforts by Beijing to create a set of world-class research institutions.

The highest-rated European institution on the 2011 list was the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, at 23rd. France's University of Paris XI came in 40th place and Pierre and Marie Curie University at 41.

The University of Tokyo, at 21st, was the highest-rated Asia-Pacific institution. China's own Hong Kong University and Tsinghua University were among the top 200, as was the National Taiwan University.

The rankings can be found at www.arwu.org.

'Apes' hang onto top branch at box office

LOS ANGELES, August 14, 2011 (AFP) - "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" hung onto the top spot in the North American box office for a second weekend in a row, raking in $27.5 million, industry estimates showed Sunday.

Though the earnings marked a 50 percent drop from last weekend, the prequel to the 1968 film "Planet of the Apes" still brought a total of $104.9 million after 10 days, according to earnings tracker Exhibitor Relations.

In surprise second came the on-screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 debut novel "The Help," about African American maids working for white households in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. It opened Wednesday and earned $25.5 million over the weekend, for a total take of $35.4 million so far.

"Final Destination 5," the fifth installment of the franchise, landed in third. With fans possibly tiring on the once innovative concept of teens cheating death only to have death come clawing back at them, the film sold a less-than-expected $18.4 million in tickets.

"The Smurfs" dropped from second to fourth in their third week, with a take of $13.5 million. The live-action and animated film, starring Neil Patrick Harris and featuring the voice of pop star Katy Perry as Smurfette, has so far generated an estimated $101.5 million in North American sales.

Fifth went to "30 Minutes or Less," starring Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network" as a pizza delivery guy kidnapped by fledgling criminals who strap a bomb to his chest and order him to rob a bank. It earned $13 million.

Hollywood action thriller "Cowboys & Aliens" starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, marked its third week in theaters with $7.6 million in ticket sales, slipping from third to sixth place.

In seventh came "Captain America: The First Avenger" with Chris Evans starring as a superhero dedicated to defending American ideals, with $7.1 million.

Dropping one spot to eighth was romantic comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love," with a take of $6.9 million.

The eighth and last installment of the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," took in a little under $6.9 million, landing in ninth in its fifth week after breaking multiple box office records and soaring past $1 billion in global sales.

Rounding out the top 10 was comedy date flick "The Change-Up," with $6.2 million.

'Hacktivists' target San Francisco subway website

SAN FRANCISCO, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - The international group of hackers known as Anonymous began a cyber attack on the San Francisco subway's online presence Sunday, in retaliation for the agency's bid to shut down cellphone service to limit a protest over a fatal shooting.

As of late Sunday the main website for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was still functioning, but the San Francisco Chronicle and other media reported the hackers had defaced a related website -- mybart.org -- and leaked user's personal information.

BART made a "conscious decision of ordering various cell phone companies to terminate services for the downtown area inhibiting those in the area from using cell phones -- even in the case of an emergency," said the group in a statement posted online.

"Anonymous will attempt to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced," said the group.

The subway service said earlier Sunday it was "disappointed" to announce their website "may be subject to an online attack today, Sunday August 14, between noon and 6:00 pm (1900 GMT to 0100 GMT Monday)."

The action, said BART, would "directly affect those customers who depend upon our site, as well as the developers who use BART's open data services to serve BART customers."

"We're not done yet folks... we're just getting warmed up," announced the group on one of their affiliated Twitter accounts.

The original protest on Thursday was to protest the shooting death in July of a knife-wielding homeless man on the BART system at the hands of police, which connects some two million people per month with the San Francisco area with the outer suburbs and airport.

The group called for a peaceful demonstration on Monday against BART, urging protesters to wear red shirts and masks.

"Hacktivists" with Anonymous previously hacked the financial organizations Visa and PayPal, among others, after they cut supply funds from the activist whistleblower site Wikileaks.

'Hacktivists' target San Francisco subway website

SAN FRANCISCO, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - The international group of hackers known as Anonymous began a cyber attack on the San Francisco subway's online presence Sunday, in retaliation for the agency's bid to shut down cellphone service to limit a protest over a fatal shooting.

As of late Sunday the main website for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was still functioning, but the San Francisco Chronicle and other media reported the hackers had defaced a related website -- mybart.org -- and leaked user's personal information.

BART made a "conscious decision of ordering various cell phone companies to terminate services for the downtown area inhibiting those in the area from using cell phones -- even in the case of an emergency," said the group in a statement posted online.

"Anonymous will attempt to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced," said the group.

The subway service said earlier Sunday it was "disappointed" to announce their website "may be subject to an online attack today, Sunday August 14, between noon and 6:00 pm (1900 GMT to 0100 GMT Monday)."

The action, said BART, would "directly affect those customers who depend upon our site, as well as the developers who use BART's open data services to serve BART customers."

"We're not done yet folks... we're just getting warmed up," announced the group on one of their affiliated Twitter accounts.

The original protest on Thursday was to protest the shooting death in July of a knife-wielding homeless man on the BART system at the hands of police, which connects some two million people per month with the San Francisco area with the outer suburbs and airport.

The group called for a peaceful demonstration on Monday against BART, urging protesters to wear red shirts and masks.

"Hacktivists" with Anonymous previously hacked the financial organizations Visa and PayPal, among others, after they cut supply funds from the activist whistleblower site Wikileaks.

Hackers gather in Germany for computing 'Woodstock'

FINOWFURT, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - With hammocks hanging from trees and the smell of marijuana lingering in the air, the summer camp organised by Germany's Chaos Computer Club (CCC) almost felt like Woodstock.

But instead of hippies it was computer hackers who had flooded this year's summer camp. And instead of flower power the talk was of the latest controversies in cyberspace, especially the legality of hacking and the role of famed whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Organised by the CCC, which fights for freedom of information through hacking, the camp takes place every four years and is a venue for computer fans to meet, debate hacking issues and try out new technology.

Hosted over four days last week at a former Soviet base in Finowfurt, north of Berlin, the camp attracted an estimated 3,500 hackers from 50 countries, up from 2,300 people in 2007, CCC spokesman Frank Rieger said.

Mixing conferences with workshops with titles such as "Cyberpeace and datalove", the camp attracted a young and mostly male crowd, united by the CCC slogan "Protect private data, exploit public data".

But beyond the "peace and love" atmosphere, the hacking community was split on several issues.

"Hackers are very individualistic, they don't like being put in boxes," explained Rieger.

One hot-button topic was Julian Assange's controversial agenda, following the release of hacked US diplomatic cables this year which again divided opinion on the whistleblower site and its founder.

Former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg, now a self-sworn enemy of Assange, used the Finowfurt event to announce the launch of his own platform, OpenLeaks, and challenged CCC members to hack it.

"He wants to use us as a credibility voucher," said the CCC's Andy Mueller-Maguhn, a close friend of Assange who stands out from the hacking crowd with his pressed shirt and briefcase.

"It's very annoying. By definition, our movement is an open one," he said, "but sometimes one has to set limits."

Another issue up for debate was the legality of hacking, where many agree the lines are blurred.

Samuel Lesueur of the French hacker group Ecolab said he has always chosen "the legal route" but admits that "out of the boundaries of the association, everyone does as they please".

"Anything that's illegal has no legitimacy to me," said Jeremie Zimmermann, from "La Quadrature du Net", a French group promoting Internet freedom.

But Zimmermann admits to campaigning against laws in France that ban downloading data from the Internet and downplayed spectacular hacking attacks by the groups Anonymous and LulzSec.

"Anonymous and LulzSec, that's not terrorism, that's merely vandalism," he said.

LulzSec claimed responsibility for a 50-day rampage earlier this year against international businesses and government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US Senate and electronics giant Sony.

The group has since disbanded.

Last week another hacker group attacked the websites of numerous US police agencies in protest at the arrest of a number of their peers, including hackers from the group Anonymous.

But it was not all philosophical debate at Finowfurt.

"I want to hack my girlfriend's webcam in order to spy on her," confessed one young man, who did not want to give his name.

"But I couldn't find anyone to tell me how to do it," he added, looking dejected.

US aviators to salute Japan tsunami town

MISAWA, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - A group of pilots from the United States will salute disaster-hit Japan by flying over the tsunami-hit coast in a replica of the first plane to cross the Pacific non-stop 80 years ago.

The original single-propeller aircraft, the "Miss Veedol", made the epic 8,000 kilometre (4,900 mile) flight from Japan to the United States in 1931, four years after Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic non-stop.

The legend lives on in the northeastern Japanese town of Misawa where the plane took off, and where a monument today commemorates the epic 41-hour voyage and schoolchildren learn about the aviation adventure in school.

Pilots Scott Carter and Jack Lodato are due to fly the replica plane Thursday over Misawa, which was hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 20,000 people dead or missing along the Pacific coastline.

"Our message is encouragement and admiration for the people of Japan," another pilot involved in the enterprise, David Stadler, told AFP.

"After the setbacks, hardship and suffering, they still look to the sky. It can lift our thoughts and spirits up from the everyday difficulties."

Misawa, in the northeast of Honshu island, escaped the full brunt of the tsunami, but two people died when the giant wave hit its fishing harbour.

City official Kenichi Nakamura said the tsunami also destroyed a wooden model of the Miss Veedol on its Sabishiro beach, where the original flight took off.

 The flying replica was built in Wenatchee, Washington state, where the original flight made a belly landing in 1931. It is on loan to the city and displayed at the Misawa Aviation and Science Museum.

The plane, with Stadler and one of the other pilots in the cockpit, will make a second flight over Misawa next month to bid farewell to the city before returning to the US.

The commemorative flights had been planned before the tsunami and organisers had considered calling them off but decided to go ahead in a bid to cheer up tsunami victims.

The original plane flown by aviators Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon, a modified Bellanca Skyrocket Long-Distance Special, is no longer around -- years after its historic flight, it crashed while crossing the Atlantic.

The Miss Veedol has long been a symbol in Misawa, which now hosts US and Japanese airbases. Its image graces public signs and features in local souvenir shops. Children play in a plane-shaped "Miss Veedol Dome".

"Every single student in Misawa knows about Miss Veedol because we have a special class to study its achievement," said student Miki Mashimoto, 17.

Megumi Suzuki, a 36-year-old housewife visiting the aviation museum, said: "I'm looking forward to watching it fly over Misawa. The replica is beautiful and bigger than I expected."

Not everyone shares the enthusiasm. Some elderly people associate US aircraft with wartime bombing raids rather than trans-Pacific friendship.

"Misawa was also attacked with US air bombs during World War II," said Tomoko Sugimoto, a 76-year-old vegetable market worker.

"After the war, we were given chocolate and candies by US soldiers and the two countries are friends now, but I still have mixed feelings."

Masayoshi Kohiruimaki, whose grandmother hosted the two pilots at her house 80 years ago, said: "I hope Miss Veedol will become a bridge between the two countries to further promote our joint prosperity with the United States."

Australian police crack international fraud syndicate

SYDNEY, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Five men from Malaysia and Sri Lanka were charged Monday with being members of an international fraud syndicate responsible for attacks on bank card systems across Australia.

New South Wales state fraud squad detectives said the arrests in Sydney followed months of investigations with the men allegedly coordinating the group's activities in Australia, Europe and North America.

"The NSW Police Force is committed to targeting fraud related crime and today's operation has resulted in the significant disruption of an alleged international syndicate," said Detective Superintendent Col Dyson.

It is alleged the syndicate employed highly advanced technology to illegally copy account details from the magnetic strips on credit or debit cards when people used handheld machines normally meant for processing payments.

The men were charged with offences including conspiracy to cheat and defraud, robbery, participating in a criminal group and possessing equipment to make identification documents.

During raids, police seized items including machines for processing bank payments, laptop computers, numerous mobile phones, cash, false travel documents and a number of Canadian credit cards.

Japan economy shrank less than thought after quake

TOKYO, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's economy shrank less than expected in the April-June quarter, data showed Monday, fuelling hopes that its recovery from the March 11 quake and tsunami disasters is on track.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Asia's second-biggest economy looks likely to grow again in the July-September quarter, although he warned of the risk posed by the strong yen, which hurts Japan's exporters.

The Cabinet Office said Japan's economy shrank an annualised 1.3 percent in the first full quarter since the nation's worst post-war disaster -- beating bleak market expectations of a 2.7-percent contraction.

The figures highlight that Japan's economy has started to bounce back from the calamity, which killed more than 20,000 people, wiped out entire towns along the Pacific coast and sparked a nuclear emergency.

"It was negative growth, but not bad data," said Mitsumaru Kumagai, chief economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research. "Our basic expectation now is to see gradual growth on the back of reconstruction demand."

On-quarter, Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 0.3 percent in April-June, after a 0.9-percent contraction in the January-March period and shrinkage of 0.6 percent in the previous quarter.

Exports plunged by an annualised 18.1 percent in the second quarter, when tsunami damage to factories in Japan's northeast still hobbled supply chains, especially in the crucial auto and electronics sectors.

As the scale of the disaster weighed on the nation, private consumer spending, nearly two-thirds of Japan's GDP, fell 0.1 percent on-quarter.

However, rebuilding efforts also stimulated the economy. Government consumption rose 0.5 percent and public investment increased 3.0 percent due to relief and reconstruction projects for the quake-hit areas.

Corporate investment grew by 0.2 percent, said the data, which follows recent figures showing increases in industrial production and machinery orders, a key indicator of capital spending.

Kumagai said that "despite the damage done to supply chains, consumption of durable goods, such as televisions and air-conditioners, did not fall," he said. "Exports did fall, but not as sharply as expected.

"For July-September, it is reasonable to assume a return to growth."

Finance Minister Noda also said: "There is a strong possibility the economy will return to growth in the July-September period.

 "But there are factors posing downside risks to the economy, such as the yen's strength," he added at a news conference.

Recent global market turmoil sparked by the eurozone debt crisis and the uncertain US economic outlook has prompted investors to flock to the yen, which is considered a safe-haven currency.

The heavy buying has sent the yen soaring to near its post-war high of 76.25 to the dollar -- a trend that hits Japan's export sector by making its goods less competitive abroad and eroding repatriated overseas profits.

Japan's government intervened in the forex market earlier this month in a bid to tame the yen's rise, and has signalled it is ready to do so again, as businesses have threatened to move factories abroad.

In lean times, Internet spurs second-hand market in France

PARIS, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Used to the good life, France has lagged behind many other countries in using the marketing muscle of the Internet to spur interest in second-hand goods.

But today, belts are tightening as spending power declines and unemployment rises -- and more seems likely next week when President Nicolas Sarkozy unveils plans to narrow the country's budget deficit.

As a result, traditional reluctance about "pre-owned" possessions is evaporating.

Since roughly the start of the year, a flurry of websites has sprouted in which people rent or even give away their personal belongings -- a donation that comes with the condition that the would-be owner has to collect.

"After the CAC 40 [the main French stock barometer] went into a dive at the start of the month, we experienced a very big rise in the number of people wanting to hire items on our site," said Alexandre Woog, co-founder of e-loue.

The site, which means e-hire in French, has a remarkable range of goods for rent.

They include run-of-the-mill stuff such as cars, boats and tools, but also country cottages, champagne glasses, a cake stand, a goat (10 euros, or 14 dollars, a day), a cinema's popcorn maker -- and a host of big-name suits and gowns and the designer bling to go with it.

Such things are terrific for people who, just for an evening, want to live the high life at a low price.

The renters benefit, too.

"Think about it," said Woog. "If you buy a handbag for 250 euros (355 dollars), all you have to do is rent it out for 10 euros (14 dollars) a night for 25 times, and you've got your money back!"

-- 'It's been a lifesaver' --

E-loue took off as a market-place for consumers, but demand has been so impressive that a business-to-business version has now been launched, says Woog.

Other sites that have flourished in tougher times include www.donnons.org -- "let's give" in French -- in which people offload unwanted possessions for free to whoever is willing to pick them up.

Founder Olivier Nass, aged 37, says that 550,000 objects have found new homes over the last three years, and right now the site is getting more than 60,000 hits per day.

The site bans gifts of animals and food and, according to Nass, problems are extremely rare, in the range of one deal in every 1,000.

"It's been a lifesaver for a large number of people who don't have enough money to buy tools or gadgets or clothing, leaving them the means to focus on essentials such as rent," said Nass.

A rival donation site is co-recyclage.com, set up in April by Thomas Duclos Chanteaud, a seven-year veteran with French trash collectors Veolia Proprete.

"The goal is simply to provide a point of contact between two people who are keen on recycling," he said.

"For example, someone who picks up a second-hand sofa will not be buying a new one, which would increase his carbon footprint. And the person who's getting rid of the sofa won't be sending it to the rubbish dump, where it would probably be incinerated, adding to greenhouse gases."

France produces mountains of rubbish each year -- 391 kilos (860 pounds) a year per household, a figure that has doubled over 40 years in spite of efforts to reuse glass bottles and metal and plastic packaging.

Jiaotong University: one of China's top schools

SHANGHAI, August 14, 2011 (AFP) - Shanghai's Jiaotong University is one of China's top schools, with a reputation for turning out a steady supply of scientists and engineers to contribute to the nation's development.

The university built its reputation on its engineering and science departments -- still considered its strongest -- and has 31 departments in all, covering subjects ranging from design to Marxism.

It has compiled its annual "Academic Ranking of World Universities" since 2003, listing what it sees as the 500 best schools in the world.

It uses criteria such as the number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won by staff and alumni, the number of highly cited researchers on staff, and the number of articles by staff published in Nature and Science magazines.

In China, Jiaotong is best known for its most famous graduate, former Chinese president and Communist Party secretary Jiang Zemin, who graduated from the electrical machinery department in 1947.

Qian Xuesen, the founder of China's space programme, was another graduate.

Last year's rankings put Jiaotong in the top five of mainland universities, though below Peking University -- considered China's Harvard -- and Tsinghua University, widely referred to as China's MIT.

The classical Chinese gate at the entrance of the original campus, which is still in use alongside four newer ones, offers a glimpse into the history of Jiaotong.

The university dates back to 1896, when it was established by the edict of China's emperor. It was among the first national institutions of higher learning in China.

Unlike some other schools of the period, Jiaotong had no foreign missionary background.

Originally established as the Nanyang School, it was founded by Qing Dynasty official Sheng Xuanhuai, who would later serve as transport minister.

Jiaotong's reputation for grooming top engineers dates to the 1930s, before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, yet it has upheld that tradition.

Students are considered to be smart and hardworking yet are stereotyped as being socially awkward, one graduate said.

Jiaotong has nearly 18,000 undergraduates and more than 24,000 post-graduate students, according to figures provided by the school.

"The male versus female ratio was seven to one, so there are really lots of guys in the school," said Phil Wu, who did both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in physics at Jiaotong.

"Students usually study very hard. Many of them spend lots of time in research labs, but focus less on developing people skills."

The school has nearly 1,600 international students, many studying Chinese language.

The full-time faculty numbers more than 3,000 with over 800 professors.

Jiaotong University: one of China's top schools

SHANGHAI, August 14, 2011 (AFP) - Shanghai's Jiaotong University is one of China's top schools, with a reputation for turning out a steady supply of scientists and engineers to contribute to the nation's development.

The university built its reputation on its engineering and science departments -- still considered its strongest -- and has 31 departments in all, covering subjects ranging from design to Marxism.

It has compiled its annual "Academic Ranking of World Universities" since 2003, listing what it sees as the 500 best schools in the world.

It uses criteria such as the number of Nobel prizes and Fields medals won by staff and alumni, the number of highly cited researchers on staff, and the number of articles by staff published in Nature and Science magazines.

In China, Jiaotong is best known for its most famous graduate, former Chinese president and Communist Party secretary Jiang Zemin, who graduated from the electrical machinery department in 1947.

Qian Xuesen, the founder of China's space programme, was another graduate.

Last year's rankings put Jiaotong in the top five of mainland universities, though below Peking University -- considered China's Harvard -- and Tsinghua University, widely referred to as China's MIT.

The classical Chinese gate at the entrance of the original campus, which is still in use alongside four newer ones, offers a glimpse into the history of Jiaotong.

The university dates back to 1896, when it was established by the edict of China's emperor. It was among the first national institutions of higher learning in China.

Unlike some other schools of the period, Jiaotong had no foreign missionary background.

Originally established as the Nanyang School, it was founded by Qing Dynasty official Sheng Xuanhuai, who would later serve as transport minister.

Jiaotong's reputation for grooming top engineers dates to the 1930s, before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, yet it has upheld that tradition.

Students are considered to be smart and hardworking yet are stereotyped as being socially awkward, one graduate said.

Jiaotong has nearly 18,000 undergraduates and more than 24,000 post-graduate students, according to figures provided by the school.

"The male versus female ratio was seven to one, so there are really lots of guys in the school," said Phil Wu, who did both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in physics at Jiaotong.

"Students usually study very hard. Many of them spend lots of time in research labs, but focus less on developing people skills."

The school has nearly 1,600 international students, many studying Chinese language.

The full-time faculty numbers more than 3,000 with over 800 professors.